Creating the (Progressive) Schools Our Children Deserve

It’s hard to believe, but we will be back to school in just over a week. This is the article I have been contemplating to prepare both myself and my own older children for returning to the classroom. These two things have more in common than you’d think.

Manifesting a truly progressive school is about more than just preparing a beautiful environment, and offering an innovative, responsive curriculum. It is about cultivating an emotionally safe atmosphere, or as we like to say at Rowanberry, “creating a culture of kindness.” Despite what many of us envision, kindness is not permissiveness or low expectations. It is clear, firm, and loving. Always loving. Our children deserve this at every age.

In our community we agree to take care of these things:

In our community we agree to take care of these things:

Rowanberry's kindergarten crew, the "Fab 5" learned as much about friendship and community as they did about reading and writing this year.

Rowanberry’s kindergarten crew, the “Fab 5” learned as much about friendship and community as they did about reading and writing this year.

Here is the excerpt from Alfie Kohn’s “The (Progressive) Schools Our Children Deserve” that got my wheels turning. See the link below for the article in its entirety. It is 10 years old and I believe it to be as timely and powerful as ever. If you find it inspiring, please feel free to share it with a friend! In the current educational climate where academic achievement is regarded above all else, this is a reminder we could all use.

“My last question to you is: Does the social and moral stuff in the classroom reflect the same good commitments that the intellectual stuff does? I was visiting a classroom not too far from here, once upon a time, where I was in heaven with the way these kids were doing both math and language arts. It was everything I think a progressive, understanding-based, learner-centered classroom should be. And then it was time for the class meeting. I wrote about this in a book, and I’ll spare you all the details, but the teacher told the kids where they had to sit. She asked, “What’s the most important question we have to ask about our field trip?”—to which there was one right answer. Kids who talked were singled out and humiliated in front of everyone else and, in one case, separated from the rest of the group. When the class was not doing academic learning, when it was all about being together and deciding together and issues of community—social, moral, behavior stuff—I might as well have been in the most traditional classroom imaginable.

Part of the problem comes from our focus on behavior, even in a lovely room like this—don’t look around, but there are some Skinnerians in our midst. Like teachers who routinely ask, “What are we going to do about this kid’s behavior?” The more I hear that word at staff meetings or parent-teacher conferences, the more worried I get. Because when you are focused on behaviors you can see and measure, the likelihood is that you’re going to return to rewards and punishments—the best tools we have for extinguishing or reinforcing a given behavior. Progressive schools ought to be concerned about the child who does the behavior and his or her motives and values. That’s the social-moral domain, which brings us right back to where I started in talking about the whole child. It’s not just the artistic elements, as opposed to the purely mathematical. It’s the person and helping that person to grow, as opposed to controlling and getting compliance and conformity.”

Blessings on your school year!
Angela Molloy Murphy